Growing debate inside Pa. Supreme Court to allow comfort dogs for witnesses

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- There is a unique case in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and it involves a human's best friend in the courtroom.

Scientists have shown that interacting with animals can boost levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin that helps with anxiety and stress.

Those are emotions that can be exacerbated by being a witness to a trial.

That is why a local law firm wants the courts to allow comfort dogs to support vulnerable witnesses while they are testifying.

The courtroom can be intimidating, which can affect the witness's ability to give accurate testimony.

Experts say comfort dogs can help the witness relax.

"It benefits the justice system because we want witnesses to be relaxed...we don't want them to clam up and feel nervous. So it has a benefit for the truth-seeking function in courtrooms," said Karl Myers and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young LLP.

The argument against comfort dogs would be that the jurors may see the witness as sympathetic.

But attorney Melissa Perry says the dogs are not visible to the jury in most cases. And if they are, the judge can provide instructions to the jury to not make inferences about the witness because of a comfort dog.

"The jury can be trusted. The jury is going to be focused on the witness's testimony, and isn't going to be swayed by the presence of a dog," said Perry.

The attorneys say the witnesses using the dogs could be defense witnesses as well.

The decision is expected in the next six months.
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